Appropriating the Gospel

I have often wondered why some professing Christians show so little progress in the faith while others develop an immediate love for the Word of God and experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way.

For example, we met a Chinese woman who became a believer simply because she was curious about why people kept saying “Thank the Lord.” Her curiosity led her to get a Bible and read through the entire thing from cover to cover in a couple of weeks. Raised on evolution in Communist China, she immediately recognized the truth of the creation account in Genesis. Sensing the significance of the Ten Commandments, she committed them to memory. When she came to the Lord’s Prayer, she realized its importance and memorized it as well. She had no one to teach her the fundamentals of the faith, yet she had a natural grasp of the truth just by reading the Bible by herself. She was filled with joy even though her life was full of hardships.

Another woman attended our church for years and accepted the Bible as God’s Word – true in every detail and a trustworthy foundation upon which to build her life. Yet she couldn’t get free from her struggle with depression. She would find temporary relief after receiving prayer from the pastor or other believers, but the depression would always come back.

Then her church hired a new pastor. This woman joined a Bible study led by the pastor’s wife and learned the fundamentals of the faith all over again from another perspective. The truths were the same, but ordered around the sovereignty of God rather than the needs of man. She began to see God with new eyes and suddenly her depression was gone. Now she says she knows it will never return.

Focusing on God

What do these two women have in common? One came to the truth on her own without the aid of the four spiritual laws or some other formatted gospel presentation. She came to Christ by reading the word of God. She learned for herself that the Christian life is not about her but about her Savior. The other one had been exposed for years to the “Therapeutic Gospel” which is taught in the vast majority of Evangelical churches. This is a gospel that centers on meeting the needs of man. Ironically, this gospel was unable to provide genuine healing for her depression. Focusing on herself only made the depression worse. When she focused on God, it went away by itself.

In Philippians 3, Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” His life was all about developing an increasing intimacy with God. This intimacy was more important than anything else as he acknowledges in the next verse, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Later he says that he even rejoices in his sufferings because they bring him closer to Christ, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

You Don’t Choose Christ – He Chooses You

You won’t find many Christians who are genuinely eager to suffer for Christ’s sake in order to get to know Him better. That has something to do with the way they came to Christ in the first place. Many, if not most, professing Christians made a “profession of faith” that included saying a formal prayer or raising a hand at an evangelistic meeting. These folks all believe they chose Christ. But the fact of the matter is that true believers don’t choose Christ. They are chosen by Christ.

The book of Ephesians says that God chose believers before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5), that he redeems them, sanctifies them, makes them His sons, gives them an inheritance, bestows His Holy Spirit on them, and ultimately glorifies them (vs. 3-14). This is all God’s doing and not one bit of our own, not even the faith part. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that (i.e. “faith”) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God gave us the faith to believe in Him because we were dead in our sins and incapable of even acknowledging Jesus as Lord. As Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

You Have No Part in Your Own Redemption

I only began to appropriate all of the spiritual blessings of belief when I finally realized that I owed my redemption lock stock and barrel to Jesus Christ and God the Father. Suddenly I realized I had nothing to be proud of, no qualifications to commend me for salvation. God in His mercy had chosen me entirely at His own discretion and for His own purposes. I too had suffered from depression for years, even though I had professed faith in Christ. That depression immediately went away and has never come back. I have a new love for the Word of God and a desire to obey it. I want to please Christ more than anything else in the world. And I want to know Him even more intimately by sharing in His sufferings.

So many Christians feel insecure about their salvation. Because they came to Christ on their own, they feel it is solely up to them to sustain their salvation. They don’t realize that the One who justifies them will in no way cast them out. If the Judge Himself justifies them, who can condemn them? (Rom 8:34). Christ is thoroughly able to complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6). He chose them and He holds them securely. It is not a matter of our ability but His sovereignty.

Those Christians who come to Christ on their own not only have an innate insecurity about their salvation, but they have an inability to trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to save others. For them, evangelism is a matter of man-made method and persuasion. They feel the onus is on them to make the case for Christ. So they try to entice people into the kingdom by lowering the demands of discipleship. They avoid talking about the unpleasant aspects of salvation like remorse and repentance for sin. They try to meet people’s needs as a way to win a hearing for the gospel. But the fact is that the gospel deserves an audience simply by virtue of the fact that it cost God His only Son to purchase our salvation.

Paving the Way for the Gospel?

So many churches waste precious resources of time, money and talent by providing services to people who have absolutely no intention of ever embracing Jesus Christ. Works of mercy are intended for the church first and foremost. Galations 6:10 says, “let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Him. Most of those unbelievers to whom we minister in hopes of  winning a hearing for the gospel will just take what we offer until our patience runs out.

Our church sponsored a family of refugees from Bosnia through a local relief agency for years, helping them find housing and jobs and learning English. When they finally got comfortably established in their new surroundings, they just disappeared. We haven’t heard from them since. The same thing happened with a young Chinese woman who was here on a student visa. She overstayed her visa and then because she knew the church would not approve, cut all connections and moved to Las Vegas (as best we knew). This type of experience is not uncommon.

Works-Based “Faith”

Coming to Christ on your own not only produces insecurity, it results in a “faith” that depends on constant works to validate it. Those who believe it is up to them to “accept Christ” find themselves continually striving to confirm their faith by their good works. That is why some Christians burn themselves out serving others, yet seem so joyless in the process. Sure we should serve our brothers and sisters, but we should also realize that meeting their needs is not entirely up to any one of us individually. Others have gifts of ministry that they can use. We need to find those ways where we can be of best service and major on meeting those particular needs. God is sovereign and fully capable of providing the resources to meet the needs He deems important.


We cannot find true peace and joy until we come to realize that salvation is the work of a sovereign God who chooses us, redeems us, makes us holy, adopts us as His own children, and provides for us an inheritance that will last forever. None of this is our own doing, so we can neither sustain it or lose it. We can trust God to bring the good work He has begun in us to completion because He cannot fail. If He could, He wouldn’t be God. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says, ” For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

About craigolson001

Follower of Jesus Christ. Devoted husband. Avid student of the Bible. Former missionary to northern Japan for eight years. Retired. Author of The Lukewarm Church. Pickleball enthusiast. Biker, golfer. Member of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL.
This entry was posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, evangelism, new birth, Redemption, Reformed Theology, salvation, sanctification and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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